As a small child I was rambunctious and irritating, I would climb things and exhaust my parents with incomprehensible energy levels, so they did what any loving parents would do (no, not adoption), they enrolled me in gymnastics classes. From the age of three on I began to spend more time at "the gym" than anywhere else (yes, including my house). I would come home from school and rush to finish all of my homework before 4:45, then I would put my leotard under my clothes, eat a dinner of tofu hot dogs, salad and baked beans (I cringe now to think what the result would be if I attempted to eat a mountain of baked beans and then spend the next three hours upside-down), and then my Mom would drive me to gymnastics, where I would stay for the next four/four and a half hours.
Practically every important moment of my childhood occurred at US Gym on Humphrey Street. It went from a casual hobby, with coaches who had good intentions and smiling faces, to a life commitment and a rising competitive nature that still hasn't subsided, with coaches who barked at each other in Croatian and shouted our routines into perfection.
The group of girls who were on the competitive team with me were practically my only friends (who else would want to sign up for a friend whose entire week was spent essentially, in her underwear hanging from a wooden bar?) and, since I was one of the oldest, I was one of the "ringleaders", you might say. I was, by no means, a great example. I used to crack jokes at inappropriate times, I used to talk back to my coaches, and I used to have to run a lot of extra laps around the gym. But I loved it there. I loved the way that it always smelled a little bit like feet, I loved that I got my own locker that was covered in Spice Girls bubblegum wrappers and stickers, I loved that I knew how to push on the vending machine when my Snickers got stuck, I loved running at full speed, only to propel myself in another direction, I loved telling stories to my teammates, and I loved being the first person in US Gym history to get a 9.7 on the vault (even though that record has long since expired and the vault itself has long since been replaced with a newer, more aerodynamic design). I loved lining up in height order on a piece of crinkled, silver duct tape on the floor, I loved the way it felt to be the best at something, and I can still feel the different textures of the different balance beams; the coarse, camel colored, very square one, the smooth, softer, more rounded one, the blue mesh of the mat under my feet. That place was more a part of me than any other.
The summer that I decided to quit, I knew I was ready. I was already twelve and was developing mental blocks on almost every new trick I was practicing, as well as the other things I was developing, like crushes on boys, the need to be socially accepted at school, boobs, and the need to wear shorts over my leotard...if you know what I mean–ahem. It was time to say goodbye. It was time to wake up and have to go buy an under-wire bra, time to have insomnia for lack of physical exhaustion when hitting the pillow, and time to grow up.
I still would try to fall asleep by mentally running through my uneven bars routine, and I would still call myself a "gymnast". My biggest fear was ending up like my mother, saying things like, "I used to be a gymnast", I wanted to be a gymnast forever. Well, let me tell you something, kids, no one is a gymnast forever. That's some Peter Pan shit. You grow to 5'6" and you fill out a D cup bra and all of a sudden you realize that you will never again do a glide kip. Sure, you'll be able to impress small children (and possibly adults) by doing backflips on trampolines, but mostly, it will just hurt later. I used to listen to my parents talk about how much it would hurt to do anything like that now and would think, "I'll never be like that". I am. I carried a couch up one flight of stairs today and I think I need a vicodin.
Back to the point: I found the Facebook page for the gym I used to be a part of and I found something terribly sad: they've moved. I know this doesn't sound like much, but I somehow always thought that I'd be able to go back there and relive those moments, re-smell those feet, go look at those lockers. Maybe it was naive to think that, and I'm sure it was, but now, knowing that it's gone...well, I cried. Yes, seriously. If I ever go back (and that would require some serious time in NJ–and we all know how I feel about that...oh? We don't? Well, we'll have a post about that soon) it won't smell the same, and the walls won't be covered in my fingerprints, and there will be new lockers, probably with Justin Bieber stickers on them. What did I want? Some sort of immortalized plaque to me? Well, yes, kind of.
I know there is no way to relive your childhood, but I'd really like to do a back layout again.
Oh, I was Kerri Strug for Halloween '96 (You remember her: the gymnast who sprained her ankle to win Gold for the US in Atlanta?)